During the 2011 holiday season, I sent a subtle hint to a gift-giving loved one with an email entitled “I want the Gemstone Magnet Set!” Little did I know that Stacy Longenecker, the owner and proprietor of LEIF, was at the time filling orders out of her tiny Brooklyn apartment during whatever waking hours remained after working a full-time office job. Nowadays, her vibrant webshop is run from a coordinated showroom that is a fitting physical embodiment of the curated selection of delightful and varyingly handmade tchotchkes available from LEIF. The studio sometimes welcomes local shoppers during open house events, where the talented staff will generously share the secret to tying a proper package bow (which is to use two pieces of ribbon, in case you’re wondering).
In keeping a business not just afloat but growing for four years straight, Longenecker reveals that her alternate career just didn’t seem like a viable option for the work of an entire lifetime. She hoped people would take notice of the items she felt passionate about selling because they enhanced her own domestic experience. For someone driven by feeling, running an e-commerce enterprise requires a defined daily regimen, and that can be challenging to impose upon oneself. The trick, according to Longenecker, is to enjoy all aspects of the work before committing to it, even the less sexy stuff, like shipping boxes from the neighborhood’s mortal tangle of a deranged post office. If that last bit sounds impossible, then delegate, and do it fearlessly. —Annie
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I wanted to be my own boss and do something I was passionate about. I’ve been selling things on the Internet since I was 13, everything from vintage clothes to cookies, and I’ve been really perceptive of trends and what people want for as long as I can remember. I started thinking about opening an online shop right after I graduated from college, when I started applying for my first “real” job. No other jobs out there excited me, especially entry level ones, and the thought of having to work for someone else doing something I wasn’t in love with for the rest of my life just didn’t seem like an option.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what it would be?
Honestly, mostly by instinct and what was in my head. I started very organically. I never really made a business plan and kind of just did what felt right and accessible to me at the time. From day one, LEIF has just been an extension of me, and what comes naturally to me. When I wrote the “LEIF lifestyle” I pretty much just imagined my dream life and put it into words.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
The most valuable thing for me was general business advice; like essential information in areas where I didn’t have a clue, such as taxes and licenses and all that boring stuff. I went to the NYC Small Business Association and got a lot of practical info there. It’s kind of crazy how inaccessible that type of information is; it’s a lot of work to figure all that stuff out. Other than that, my parents were a great resource — they’re entrepreneurs as well, so they were able to help me out with the business side of things, too. Seek out advice for the things that you’re not good at or don’t come naturally to you — for me that was taxes, accounting, legal stuff, etc.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
For the first two years, I ran LEIF out of my Brooklyn apartment while also working a full-time job, so managing time and space was a challenge. I came home from work (fashion/e-commerce copywriting) and did LEIF stuff all night and on the weekends. Half of my 500-square-foot apartment (which I shared with a boyfriend at the time, poor guy), was used to store products and shipping boxes. As most people in NYC can attest, getting packages at your apartment and mail in general in the city is a pain, so I rented a mailbox at a shipping place three blocks from my apartment. I bought a hand truck that I stored in my hallway, and would take incoming and outgoing shipments back and forth. So, if you ordered anything from 2011 to early 2013, I carried it by hand from my apartment to the mail place three blocks away. Ha! Honestly, I don’t know how I did it. As time went on I was making multiple trips a day and my apartment was basically a warehouse; it got a little crazy. Eventually I rented a small studio space, and went from full-time to part-time at my other job. In September 2013 I left my other job completely and started doing LEIF full-time, and it’s continued to grow ever since.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
The government will take pretty much half of your money and there isn’t anything you can do about it. You’ll actually have to pay *more* taxes as a small business owner. It’s a tough pill to swallow; it still doesn’t make sense to me. Also — there will come a point when you’ll be better off not doing everything yourself. I’m still learning that lesson, actually.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experience?
There hasn’t been a single major failure yet (knock on wood), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still challenges or things I could do better. My office building will come in and randomly drill holes in my ceiling, sometimes the wrong thing will get shipped, sometimes I have to deal with angry customers. Sometimes I’ll let a bad day or personal stuff affect my productivity. Sometimes I’m uninspired. What I’m trying to work on lately is consistency, and making more goals and routines for myself, because otherwise I’m very much a “just do things when they feel right” type of person.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Sometimes I miss the security of a traditional job and to be able to go home at the end of the day and actually leave work. When you have your own business, you can never truly leave work. It’s exhausting; you really have to love what you’re doing.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experience?
When Jenna Lyons (the Creative Director of J.Crew) ordered something, that was probably my happiest moment. And it still surprises me and makes me ridiculously happy when I meet someone new and tell them what I do and they say “Oh, I know that site!”
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting a business?
1. Make sure that you’re 1,000% passionate about what it is you’re thinking of doing. You might have to try to find out, but for example, if you’re thinking of starting a graphic design or consulting business, make sure you like working with clients. If you want to start an online store, make sure you won’t get bored spending half of your day shipping boxes. I enjoy almost every single aspect of what I do and I love it, and I think that’s a big part of why I’ve been successful.
2. The more you can do yourself, the better. Doing almost everything myself (taking photos, editing images, designing emails, etc.) as opposed to outsourcing saved me a ton of money and created consistency.
3. Don’t let a fear of failure or hesitation about how everything will work out stop you — just start somewhere and see where it goes. When I started LEIF I had no clue whether it would go anywhere or not. All I had was a vision, passion, and a couple thousand bucks to work with, and I ran with it at my own pace.